U.S. Workforce Would Wither Without Immigrants

In the wake of a fiercely contested election, immigration reform remains a hot topic of debate in the United States. A vocal segment of the populace believes that immigrants “steal” jobs from native-born U.S. workers and have an overall weakening effect on the working population. And this sentiment appears to have carried the day this past November, when Donald Trump was voted into the White House based largely on a message of enacting immigration policies that “put Americans first.” But a new report issued by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan fact tank, appears to directly contradict the wisdom of this anti-immigrant furor.

The report, entitled Immigration Projected to Drive Growth in U.S. Working Age Population Through at Least 2035, examines how immigrants are predicted to play a significant role in the retention of the U.S. workforce as the ‘Baby Boomer’ generation retires. Boomers are those born after World War II and before 1965, and they have comprised the bulk of working adults between the ages of 25 and 64 since the 1960’s. But by 2035, the youngest Boomers are expected to retire, leaving a massive gap in the eligible workforce. This mass exodus of native-born U.S. workers, combined with the fact that birthrates in the United States have remained relatively low since the 1970’s, could have potentially catastrophic consequences for our nation’s economic future. The Pew report projects that the number of working age adults born in the U.S. who also have parents who were born in this country is expected to decrease by 8.2 million by 2035. And without a robust birthrate to produce future replacement workers, the effects of this shift could be especially dire. [See Immigration Projected to Drive Growth in U.S. Working Age Population Through at Least 2035, by Jeffrey Passel and D’Vera Cohn, Pewresearch.org, 8.Mar.2017.]

Fortunately, this shrinkage in the workforce will be offset partially by U.S.-born children of immigrant parents, who are projected to number almost 25 million by 2035. But the report identifies an even more critical factor in retaining our working population – the arrival of new immigrants to our shores. The number of working age immigrants in the United States is expected to increase from 33.9 million in 2015 to 38.5 million in 2035, a gain of almost 5 million. Without these anticipated immigrant arrivals, the overall U.S. working population would plummet by almost 18 million by the year 2035. The percentage of U.S.-born working adults with U.S.-born parents will remain the majority by that time, but it is expected to decrease, from 74 percent in 2015 to 66 percent in 2035. Conversely, the portion of the working population comprised of immigrants and U.S.-born children of immigrants will increase, from 26 percent in 2015 to 34 percent in 2035. In other words, as summarized by CBS, “The only way for the U.S. labor force to grow over the next two decades is for new immigrants to replace retiring baby boomers.” [See Immigration is the Only Thing Keeping U.S. Workforce Growing, CBS/AP, 8.Mar.2017]

The Pew Research Center report seems to point to one unwavering conclusion – immigrants are hardly a “job stealing” drain on our workforce. Rather, they are integral to our continued economic dominance on the world stage. Without a consistently strong working population to fill jobs at all skill levels and keep the economy humming, our strength as a nation is weakened. We need immigrants to fill the gaps in our workforce to ensure that everyone in the U.S., native born and immigrant alike, can achieve the American dream.


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